I’m a white, Protestant, middle class man. I grew up in a redneck town, attended a predominantly white high school, paid for my own college, have had two successful careers that have allowed me to live a very comfortable life, that I worked hard for. It’s pretty easy for me to argue that racism is dead, that equal opportunity is out there, and that black people need to quit (fill in the blank) and work hard, and they can be successful just like me. As a matter of fact, I wrote a paper on that very same subject 20+ years ago in Freshman English at Lincoln University (my undergrad alma mater, and a historically black college).
But I also spent 23 years in the Army and became friends and comrades with many blacks from many different backgrounds from around the US. I had a Master Sergeant that worked for me who was pulled over multiple times while we worked together in Des Moines, IA, for “driving while black.” I’ve seen enough similar occurrences to know that it wasn’t an isolated situation.
In my years of leadership I’ve studied human behavior, particularly in situations of conflict, and learned that true progress can only be achieved when we begin by recognizing the existence of positions that may not align with our own. I’ve also become very aware that a person’s perception becomes his or her reality, no matter how illogical it might seem to an observer.
Many, many black people in our country today are hurt, afraid, enraged, distrusting, and myriad other emotions. They believe the system is prejudiced against them. Rather than taking that as a condemnation of all us white folks, what if we stopped first to listen–not to form our argument as to how they are wrong, but to hear their perspective, to seek 1st to understand what makes this perception real to them? What if, instead of immediately shouting back “You’re WRONG!” and launching into whatever flavor of justification we prefer/believe, we stopped to consider, “What if it is true?”